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Lately, I've been giving High On Fire a really deep listen. Arising out of the ashes of Sleep, High On Fire takes a more muscular approach to the stoner/sludge aesthetic, infusing it with a hard-hitting barbarian ethos. They also restlessly pursue a unique studio vision, incorporating differing production aesthetics into each record in order to continually seek out fresh sonic canvases upon which they can splatter their rough-and-tumble palette of booze-soaked heavy metal.
Death Is This Communion finds High On Fire in the company of Jack Endino, a producer known more for his work with alternative rock acts like Mudhoney, Seaweed, and Nirvana. He does have a few metal(ish) records to his credit, including albums from The Accüsed, Tad, Therapy?, and 7 Year Bitch -- records with some bite but still lacking the overall heaviness that a band like High On Fire lashes forth like a flame emblazoned whip. And personally I feel he drained High On Fire of that heaviness. The guitars feel shunted back in the mix; the bass, while prominent doesn't quite fill out the sound. He does catch the drums at a nice level but honestly the whole thing sounds castrated -- High on Fire operating at 1/10th their usual power.
The songwriting really doesn't help things either. There's a lot of embellishment, noodling, and filler around the edges, stretching out the playing time without adding much in the way of power. In fact, the effect is quite dampening. I keep waiting for the songs to bolt forth with killer riffs piling up -- a sound with which they've previously blown my ears back. But it never really happens. Songs like "Turk" and "Rumors Of War" kick out the barbarian jams with ruthless aggression while "Ethereal" gets the head nodding but I find these tracks to be the exception rather than the rule. "Fury Whip" takes forever to get going but is pretty smart once the beat kicks in. Still it never quite smashes your teeth. The title track is a slow slog that never quite hooks in either. And I find all the Middle Eastern tinged acoustic guitar work kinda forced and boring.
Ultimately, Death Is This Communion is just too ornate and rococo for me: its amalgamation of exotic flourishes leaves me cold, accentuating a drawback in songwriting that no amount of unconventionality can mask. That the band sounds tired and adrift doesn't help, nor does the weak production, which robs the band of the heft necessary to cleave their way through the sonic excesses that wind up hindering their creative vision. Death Is This Communion is easily High On Fire's least successful record.
I shouldn't like this album. I really shouldn't. The vocals are total Lemmy-worship, the guitar riffs are so simple, they border on being dumb, the bass just sits there and follows the guitar most of the time, and there are not one, not two, but THREE interlude tracks on this album. It's too fast to properly be doom, not fierce enough to be thrash, too sludgy to be traditional heavy metal (in the vein of Motörhead), but too rocking to be sludge/stoner metal. High On Fire sits somewhere in this nebulous, not-really-defined realm where they lack any notable qualities to push them into a specific genre... and normally such a case would sound like a confused gobbledegook of influence worship.
But this is different. This kicks ass.
The key here is that there is not a single minuscule mote of uncertainty here. Every note is played like they mean it. This is not a band going through the motions, this is the sound of a band out for blood. Well, weed too, but that's secondary here. Yes, the riffs are simple and repetitive - hell, "Rumors Of War" goes through its three minutes at 130+ beats per minute on only two riffs - but they never get old. The band has such an intensity that you don't DARE question their riffs. Or the vocals, for that matter.
Speaking of the band, yes, Matt Pike is awesome, blah blah blah we know this already. What's really astounding is how Matt Pike does not dominate the show, but rather the whole band works as a single unit (as all bands should, if you ask me). Sure, certain elements may stick out more than others, but everything works together to form one piece of music. The fact that this album has the best production the band's ever had emphasizes this: each instrument comes through clearly, pummeling your skull in with the fury of a rabid heard of moose.
Undoubtedly the production helps, but what's the secret to making this all sound so damn heavy? It's not because the band downtunes to C, although that may contribute. The real secret to the huge sound... is having huge instruments. Go to youtube, look at some footage of them playing. Matt Pike is playing a NINE string guitar, and it's reinforced with a very very very low-end bass. Des Kensel's drums? That bass drum much be 30% larger than the average one, and the other drums (however unbelievably few in number they may be) follow proportions to that.
Speaking of the drums, we have another huge element of the pummeling power displayed. Seriously, where did Matt find this guy? Why hasn't he been in more bands? I'm still trying to figure out how he plays things like the first pattern in "Rumors Of War"; he hits the drums sixteen times with each repetition, the snare taking up the last four. It SOUNDS like he does hi-tom 4x, low-tom 4x, then floor-tom 4x before the snare, but... he only has one bass-mounted tom and the floor tom. So not only is he capable of playing faster and more precise than most doom metal drummers, and not only does he have huge drums, but he plays with the most expressive style I've heard in a long time.
How about the songs? I can't stop listening to this album. Every time it finishes, I want to hear more. The problem is that nothing else quite sounds like this, forcing me to loop the album constantly... leaving me in quite the vicious cycle. The beginning of "Fury Whip" implies a slower, doomier sound like their previous albums (though not quite as slow and doomy as the debut album)... but before long, it takes off into the more typical speeds of the album. The band is listed as "stoner doom metal" here on the Archives, but "speed/doom" would be more accurate. The title track, oddly, is the only one that maintains a generally slower pace. "Turk" and "Rumors Of War" may be special highlights, but nothing here is a waste of time. "Cyclopian Scape" is the track that best summarizes the album: semi-accoustic, Middle-Eastern flavored sections interspersed between huge sections of doom that speeds up into an all-out crushfest. The most skippable track here would be "Headhunter," but seeing as it's just a multi-tracked drum solo intro that feeds directly into "Rumors Of War," it's hardly filler.
There is no doubt this is High On Fire's greatest album thus far. The band is fully confident in their sound, and finally have the production to back them up. Their refusal to play any one clearly-defined metal style at any given time puts them in a very unique yet accessible place, filling a void that I never even knew existed. This album came out two years ago, and I've been enjoying it since then; the belatedness of this review only attests to the album's staying power. The only question I have: When can we have more?
High on Fire's 2007 album Death is This Communion succeeds at being a shining example of what heavy metal should sound like. I bought this album thinking it would be more doom metal than it turned out to be since the band is fronted by Sleep guitarist Matt Pike. Instead, this is more heavy/stoner metal sound than anything. It's pretty good and since it defied my expectations in a positive way, I can understand why it has been so highly acclaimed.
These songs are rugged and they soar with might and muscle. These guys know what they are doing at it shows. Mike Pike's vocals have the gravel of Lemmy's but with a higher range and set at a slower pace. There is an old school delivery here and they are thick and consistent. Fury Whip has a medium pace riff opening with the drums pounding down a faster speed than the guitar. The bass moderates the two rates nicely. Towards the end the shouting of the title words lay down a rocky pavement to some double bass wash. Waste of Tiamet starts with a frenzied acoustic riff followed by thunderous bass line and then kicks out a wall of layered riffs while the acoustic maintains a nice fade in the background.
As stated, the drumming is top notch. Death is This Communion is a song that comes to mind. It commences with a thudding of punishing quality. It's heard nicely in the mix where alot of this album gets its power. The drummer lays down a lumbering distinction with the beats taking full advantage of the bass' rhythm tow. However, I'm afraid this song like some of the others goes on just a bit too long. The band is keen to perform at one such a solid and slow tread that's just a notch faster than most traditional doom metal. However, I do appreciate the bouldery temperment that the record upholds every step of the way.
Khanrad's Wall is an impressive instrumental interlude of Eastern sound. Similar to the beginning to Waste of Tiamet, it serves as one of those good old stoner metal ornaments that intercut the heaviness. Turk is a slightly faster than usual piece that prompts southern sludge standards. The gliding solo is a thing of beauty there. It lingers against the pace of the drums giving it a heavy as fuck quality. So, that track is sandwiched by instrumental pieces. Headhunter is a flashy drum solo. This isn't just a random clinic of the drums. It's a belligerent beating that breaks into Rumors of War. This song is ok but I found it sounded too much like Turk. I still dug the drums though. If anything, it's a solid reprise of that song.
I actually don't mind the frequent instrumental interludes that pepper this album. They are properly weighted amongst the songs giving the music credible diversity. Dii is one such song. I enjoyed the mellotron that seeps into the melody. Cyclopian Scape is another good but much too long track. Matt Pike does a splendid job with the soloing and frantic riffing on it though.
High on Fire is a great metal band that has put forth an extremely accomplished piece of work here. No song sounds ot of place or tacked on. As a matter of fact, this is one of the most well binded set of songs on a metal record that I have heard in sometime. Death is This Communion is an original album but its greatest virtue is that it sounds so natural with its heaviness. I don't think I have heard a band that exudes and excels this in such an effortless way. Experience counts for every thing I guess.
The reason I'm giving this album a 100 isn't because it's my favorite album in the Universe. I'm giving it a 100 because there's no way in Hell that if you like metal that you're not gonna like this album. I wasn't too impressed with High On Fire up until now. I mean they were okay, but I didn't really see what all the hype was about. Sleep kicked ass and I always found myself wishing that they were still around. (I still do, actually, but that's not the point.) Anyway, I wasn't in a giant hurry to hear their newest release, but I found out that High On Fire finally handed over a record that kicks some serious ass.
The first song, "Fury Whip" launches into some medium-fast riffs that I won't describe as generic. I think "obvious" is a better word. Why hasn't somebody done this already? The song is a welcome throwback to mid-80's thrash metal with Matt Pike's voice rising at times to a jaguar-like howl that put a grin on my face the first few times I heard it. As a matter of fact, I think the whole album had that effect on me. "Waste of Tiamat" offers more of the same.
The title track is probably my favorite, easing up the pace with a grinding, simple guitar riff that follows each beat of the tribal-sounding drums, Pike's growling vocals almost chanting the lyrics. Heavy shit.
"Khanrad's Wall" offers a short accoustic tune that sounds remeniscent of Eastern European folk. Even the pagan metal fans don't have to feel left out.
One song after another, "Death Is This Communion" doesn't fail to deliver the goods if you wanna hear a well rounded metal album that's simultaneously original while paying homage to classic thrash metal. Play it for the whole family. There's something in for everybody.
When it comes to High on Fire, with the first three albums taken into account, there are a couple of things that I'd change. One, the production because I like to hear everything clearly and two, the solos that I'd wanted to make a little more sense and maybe throw in some memorable melodies. Looks like Matt Pike knew exactly what I was thinking and with the resultant new slab called Death is this Communion, High on Fire has released what might very well be their best yet.
For the readers here who are not familiar with this band, here's a little background story. Matt Pike was in a band called Sleep in the 90s that helped pioneer the Doom/Stoner genres with about 3 classics and a post-breakup release called Dopesmoker which is one of the most bold statements in music this side of prog rock indulgence. Sleep's Holy Mountain and Jerusalem are extremely influential albums that got to be in permanent rotation for fans of this genre. After the breakup of Sleep, Matt Pike went on to form High on Fire, a much heavier and faster metal band and the rhythm section went on to form the absolutely divine Om (which is scheduled to release the third album a little later this year). Among the other related works, Pike also fronted a shortlived doom metal project called Kalas which released a great self-titled album last year. The dudes from Om are now jamming with Wino and a member of Neurosis on an exciting new project after the breakup of Wino's latest classic band The Hidden Hand.
Now that you have all that to digest let's get to this album under scrutiny this f0ine Sunday evening.
Seattle's underground legend of sorts Jack Endino (Soundgarden, Nirvana, Zeke, Mudhoney, Nebula, The Atomic Bitchwax) provides this album the cleanest production the band has had till date. That's a big plus for me because the first two albums suffered from horrible production and though Blessed Black Wings was a step in the right direction, it wasn't a perfect album what with Matt trying out some strange shit vocally. On this album though, Matt gives his best performance yet as a vocalist with his regular Lemmy-gone-thrash-metal style delivery but always much more interesting than before. He has carried over some of the ideas he had tried with Kalas.
I was complaining about the solos. On this one Matt really takes it up a notch or two with some really memorable hooks and not just the most atonal solo-ing this side of Slayer.
As far as songwriting is concerned, Death is this Communion has the most heaviest and thrashiest of High on Fire moments interestingly mixed with eastern influenced melodies occasionally, mid-paced songs for the stoner and doom fans and also throws in a very interesting instrumental track called DII which will make Amorphis proud. Great hyper-kinetic rhythms from the drummer Des Kensel aptly supported by Jeff Matz from Zeke complete this mighty power trio on this album. Highly recommended.
I had great expectations for this album since it was made by doom metal god Matt Pike. This album does not dissapoint. It is a more mature version of there previous album. It is very easy to listen to. I recommend it for all metal lovers.
It starts out with the thundering "Fury Whip". Best song to start an album with. Matt just wants the words FURY WHIP to get stuck in your head. What I like in this album is that they use some acoustic guitar. Like in the intro of "Waste of Tiamat", "Khanrad's Wall" ,and in the intro of "Cyclopian Scape". And I think the drummer, Des, his drumming has improved somewhat too.You can tell because of his great drumming in "Headhunter". I also like how they shaped the album. Some short great songs like "Rumors of War", "DII", "Khanrad's Wall",and "Headhunter".I personally thought the longest song on the record; "Death is this Communion" was being stretched out to long. I thought it should be shortened a couple of minutes.
The lyrics on the album were more simplistic than previous works but the intensity of his vocals overshadowed that.My favorite tracks were "Turk", "Cyclopian Scape", "Ethereal", and "Return to NOD". I really loved "Return to NOD" because it got right into the action and never stopped to breathe. Same goes for the other 3 I mentioned. I was surprised to hear that they have a special outro for songs like "Cyclopian Scape" and "Ethereal". I actually liked the outros. I thought the song would be heavy 24/7. But nothing to complain about. Also I love the addition of there new bassist. He fits very well in High on Fire.
In conclusion, this album is great. They make few faulties. Even if there are faulties, Matt Pike makes up for it in his colossal guitar riffs and Des with his pounding drums. This is a great record for all, possibly album of the year.
There is no doubt about it; "Death is This Communion" is absolutely High on Fire's best effort to date. The group around former Sleep guitarist (extraordinaire) Matt Pike have indeed made what the sticker on the front claims as "their ultimate sonic masterpiece".
I bought this the day it came out, and have been listening to it more than any other CD this year - even the two previously considered to be my albums of the year - Devin's "Ziltoid the Omniscient" and Akercocke's "Antichrist". Let me tell you, this dwarfs them both! It is really easy to listen to - this must be the stoner aspect coming through strong - the production is the best they've ever had. It really flows; all of the instruments really work well together. There are loads of quality drum fills (reminds me a bit of Mastodon - no bad thing), grooving bass and of course Matt's crushing guitar. The vocals are the best I have ever heard from the man himself, again, easily comparable to Mastodon but I much prefer these.
Most of the tracks focus heavily on unstoppable grooves and quite a few thrashier sections. The layout of the songs is really well done - three mammoth tracks, followed by five short to mid-length rockers and finishing off with three more mammoth tracks. There are well placed fillers such as "Khanrad's Wall" and "Headhunter" which serve well at building up to the following tracks. "DII" is a very good instrumental track, with many epic melodies that separates the middle and concluding sections very well. Special mention goes to the aforementioned "mammoth tracks" - not one has a single boring moment, from the great intro of "Fury Whip" to the final sounds of "Return to Nod" and everything in between.
In short, this is an extraordinary album, and (along with anything I have rated over 90%) it is recommended to everyone.